Leaders line up to reject MPs’ pay rise

David Cameron is to ask the body which sets MPs’ pay to rethink their recommendation for a 10% rise, with his political opponents also voicing their disapproval. Should MPs be paid more?

The Sun called it ‘a whacking great pay increase’. The Mirror’s Fleet Street Fox said it was ‘a whopping pay rise’. Stephen Glover of the Mail criticised those due to receive it for ‘stuffing their pockets’.

The newspapers were talking about a proposal which was never likely to be popular: increasing MPs’ salaries by 10%, from £67,060 per year to £74,000. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which sets MPs’ pay, said this week that it will implement the rise unless ‘new evidence’ emerges to convince them to change their minds during a brief consultation period this month.

In response, leading politicians are rapidly distancing themselves from the idea. The three main contenders in the Labour Party’s leadership contest and several Cabinet ministers said that they would either reject the money or give it to charity. The government is now writing to Ipsa to register its disapproval. Prime Minister David Cameron previously refused to rule out abolishing Ipsa if it went ahead with a rise.

Ipsa says that the increase is justified as a one-off measure, as MPs’ pay has fallen behind that of comparable professions in recent years. It also points to its recommendation that pensions and expense allowances be cut, meaning that MPs will not earn more in total than they already do. This is a reflection of the fact that Ipsa was created in 2010 after a damaging series of revelations about the amount of money which MPs were spending on their expenses and the items that they were spending them on.

The rise is likely to prove particularly unpopular when professionals whose salaries are paid by the government, such as teachers and doctors, have become poorer in real terms since the 2008 financial crisis. With this in mind, Mr Cameron has already announced that pay for his ministers is to be reduced by 5%.

Pay the market rate?

Commentators such as The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges say that common sense dictates that MPs should be paid more. They do a vital job which requires a great deal of talent, application and sacrifice. If MPs’ pay remains lower than in comparable professions, how will we attract the best people from across society to do it? The negative public reaction to this decision is predictable but depressing.

But others, such as James Bloodworth of Left Foot Forward, argue that this misses the point. Being an MP should be about public service, not money or building a career. MPs already earn a great deal more than the majority of people in the country, and if they are to be representatives of them they should be in touch with them. Paying MPs more money will just increase the perception that politicians are out of touch.

You Decide

  1. Should we pay MPs more than their current salary (£67,060)?
  2. Will increasing MPs’ salaries help to get the people we want in to parliament?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to the head of Ipsa, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, either praising his proposal or urging him to change his mind.
  2. Prepare a presentation outlining the qualities which you would think are most important in an MP, and give some examples of those you think do (or don’t) embody them. Use the website theyworkforyou (in the expert links) to start.

Some People Say...

“Politicians are merely out for themselves.”

48% of respondents to a 2014 YouGov survey

What do you think?

Q & A

How much does MPs’ pay matter?
There are only 650 MPs, so the amount they are paid is a tiny proportion of the government’s budget. MPs’ pay could rise hugely without making a noticeable difference to our taxes. But it is a topic which always makes headlines, particularly if there is potential to accuse those who run the country of hypocrisy.
What will MPs do if the recommendation goes through?
Leaders — and those vying to become leaders — are already keen to distance themselves from it. But backbenchers will probably be more likely to accept it. Those who do will defend their actions on the basis of the amount of money they could make working elsewhere (such as in the private sector) and the tighter rules on pensions and allowances.

Word Watch

Expense allowances
MPs are entitled to claim for reasonable expenses incurred while doing their jobs. This can include, for example, some travel or accommodation expenses. Rules relating to allowances have been tightened since the creation of Ipsa.
Ipsa was created in 2010
MPs previously set their own pay. Ipsa says this led to artificially low salaries, in order to appeal to voters, and helped to create a culture in which MPs tried to claim too much money on expenses.
Damaging series of revelations
In 2009, the Daily Telegraph revealed how much money MPs were claiming as expenses, and what they were spending them on. MPs from all parties became embroiled in scandal, particularly those who had made money thanks to their entitlement to use a second home to carry out their duties. Famous examples of absurd expenses charged to the taxpayer included claims for a duck house and moat cleaning.
In real terms
When someone’s pay rises at a slower rate than the inflation of prices, they effectively become poorer, even if in cash terms they have slightly more money than they used to.

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